Joy and Grief and Motherhood

Jen Sheehan
4 min read

As I sat with my mom’s fragile hand placed in mine, feeling the kicks of life growing inside me while watching her life slip away into eternity, I felt a heaviness and a hope.

I’ll never forget the sunset that night she went to be with Jesus. The sky was painted with piercing pinks and purples. They were so vivid, a simple reminder to my soul that beauty comes even in the most painful moments. As I fast approached having my second child with just my oldest being 19 months old, I felt the reality of these words in the most literal form- He gives and takes away.

“And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21

One year ago, I lost my mom, Julia, to a long battle with cancer. It wasn’t part of my plan to have a grandchild she would never meet, but in the days since, I’ve learned much about living in the balance of grief and joy. That life means existing with both hurt and hope, sorrow and celebration. God has taught me that there is a space for it all and that as the painful process of grief sanctifies, God is always simultaneously showing us the beauty of His goodness in our lives.

There is no roadmap for grief. It comes for me in waves and isn’t confined to the schedule I would prefer as a mother, daughter, wife and friend. Time after time, the suffering returns, as it has for me it will for you. Take heart, there is grace for those moments when we equip our lives with a truth that will root us deep enough to weather any storm that comes our way. I am honored to bring you into this tender space with me in the hope that in your own season of heaviness, God will remind you of His truth.

God, my Provider
First and foremost, I had to remind myself that God doesn’t say life will be easy, but He did say He will give me what I need. As I have drawn near to him in my most painful moments, He has reminded me that I do not grieve without hope (John 16:33). I am rooted in truth and I am given a peace that truly goes beyond my comprehension or understanding.

His Word has been a blanket in what felt like the coldest of winters of my heart. Some days it was taking one verse and meditating on that. Others it was digging into Acts with a group of women who could speak words over me that I couldn’t find myself.

Lots of days it was counseling, sitting with someone trained to help me see that my grief was real and my pain was normal. Some days all I could do was be honest with God, cry out my hurt, and ask Him to do what only He could do in my heart. Whatever you can bring to the table in those moments, remember this truth, “Come near to God, and he will come near to you…” James 4:8

Not Perfect, but Present
As a mom who is learning to grieve well, the best thing I can do for my boys in this season is let them in on my journey, to see the humanity in their mother and my reliance on the only one who can meet me in my most broken spaces. I have by no means been perfect. I have gotten angry and I have needed space. I have cried lots of tears, but I’ve welcomed these moments with open arms. My boys may be too young to understand it all now, but one day I pray they see this modeled in our home:

“We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

The Balance of What Was and What Is
Gratitude has been one of my anchors in a season of grief. As I look back at this last year, I have had so much to celebrate. Moments of grief have been coupled with moments of joy. To be more practical, I have made every effort to remind myself of the things in my life that I have to be grateful for. Bringing new life into this world, healthy children, a husband who has shown up in the most heroic ways as we process the loss of my mom and friends who have dropped everything to meet needs I didn’t even know we would have. As I have worked the muscle of gratitude in my life, I have seen a change in my heart; less criticism, less frustration and less pessimism. These are just a few ways gratitude has birthed the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my life through grief.

God Will Use Me in the Middle of the Storm.
I have been blown away by how God uses even the most painful seasons of our life to bring encouragement to others and, in return, comfort to our hearts. It is such a sweet reminder that NOTHING goes to waste in the kingdom of God. I have lived in the truth of these verses this past year:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

I love how the Message translation puts it:

“He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us”

God’s promise to us is that He takes our pain and gives it great purpose. His grace is on display throughout our lives, even in our hurting. In His redemptive way, He heals the broken hearts of people around us and invites us into the story. We become the person who has walked the journey and can send the text or have a conversation with someone who is grieving. Whether it is connecting with other mothers through the loss of a loved one or any other storm, I don’t ever want to miss God’s gift of the Church sharing in one another’s suffering.

The Body of Christ
Grief gets a bad rep sometimes. But, it has made me a better mother, wife and friend. I pray as the body of Christ, we encourage one another to lean into our sufferings, root ourselves in what God says about them and check in on those who may be walking through a season like our own. I promise you this, If you do these things, God will give you the kindest understanding of who He is, your own purpose and hope in the midst of your circumstances.

written by

Jen Sheehan

Jen Sheehan has been part of the Passion City Church team for the last ten years and currently serves as our Communications Manager for the Atlanta Area. Her husband Jonathan also works on our Passion Conferences team, and they love living + serving in the city with their two boys Oliver and Archer.